Calling in the movers
The ‘bedroom tax’ is meant to encourage tenants to downsize if they are under-occupying their homes. But, especially in the north of England, social landlords say there are simply not enough smaller houses and flats to move tenants into.
Here, Geraldine Howley, CEO of Incommunities, does the sums on how tenants of the Bradford housing association will cope with the change. Weigh in on the forum, or on Twitter using the #underoccupy hashtag – we’re particularly keen to hear what other landlords are doing to prepare for the bedroom tax, and if you’ve done similar calculations to Incommunities.
We support the principle of welfare reform and recognise the need for changes to the benefits system. We also recognise that getting people into work is beneficial to both tenants and our communities. The under-occupation element of the Welfare Reform Bill will impact most on social housing tenants – and on those families with younger children and where there are dual carers.
Over 4,200 people in the Bradford District will be expected to ‘downsize’ their home in anticipation of the under-occupation reduction. We expect tenants will see a 14 per cent reduction in their housing benefit entitlement if they have more bedrooms than their family need. In Bradford this equates to around £12 per week and a £2.8 million income loss to these customers.
Incommunities is the largest social landlord in the Bradford district and currently houses 3,800 people who are ‘under-occupying’. The problem is the availability of stock for these tenants to move into.
Incommunities let 1,693 one and two-bed general needs homes last year – the kind of properties needed if downsizing. If we were to stop letting to new tenants it would take over two years to house all the customers facing the penalty, assuming we have properties where they want to live.
The number of Incommunities’ households under-occupying who would require one-bed accommodation is 2,702. On relets alone it would take us three years to move all under-occupying customers requiring one-bed accommodation.
Our biggest concern remains the families who have younger children (up to the age of 10) of different genders sharing a bedroom. Current rules suggest they will have to move to smaller accommodation then move again as the eldest child reaches the age of 11. Our research shows it will cost them approximately £1,000 for each time they move – more than the annual cost they would contribute if they stayed and lost benefit.
Discretionary housing payments may help alleviate pressure on some of these customers, but to help them all will cost £360,000 each year – the total Bradford has allocated for DHP next year is £480,000 to cover all applications.
We will work with customers to offer choices and tailor our services to help. We will offer support to those seeking employment, help those who wish to downsize, increase support for customers with money management issues and maximise their chances of gaining DHP.
For more on the impact of the under-occupation penalty and other aspects of the Welfare Reform Bill see this week’s Focus page